By late 1969 we had pretty much touched all
show biz bases: bars, concerts, tours, TV & Radio, exhibitions media
coverage, etc. The logical progression now seemed to be to get something
on record. This was a very difficult undertaking at that time as there
were no professional studios in the area. Nor was there anyone who knew
anything about getting original songs published, record production, manufacture,
distribution, promotion, etc. In our search for contacts we found that
about the only records being produced in Manitoba were ethnic (largely
Ukrainian) and gospel.
Enter Alex Moodrey, who had produced and distributed
a number of Ukrainian music albums on his Winnipeg label, Galaxy Records.
The deal we made with Alex was that he would record us in his studio, pay
for the pressing and jackets, and would then have rights to our album which
he would distribute through his network of shops selling Ukrainian and
ethnic music - which included stores in Chicago, of all places. All we
would have to do would be to promise to buy a few hundred records. His
profit on our guaranteed purchase would cover all costs of production and
manufacture of 1000 albums and then anything he sold beyond that would
be to his pocket.
At the time, the deal sounded like a good initiation
into one facet of the business that was still a bit of a mystery to us.
So, we went into rehearsals. Since there were four us us in the Western
Union at that time, we decided that we would each be featured on three
songs -- this meant that Sue-On and I would have one whole side of the
proposed album to ourselves. We chose a mix of songs we were familiar with,
along with a few more obscure "classics" that we thought were long overdue
for fresh exposure.
Barry did three fiddle numbers: We had been adapting
Cajun-type fiddle material into our stage shows because they lended themselves
to the more driving sound we were starting to get with the heavy backbeat
Sue-On was now getting out of her new drum kit and the more biting
sound I was eking out of the Fender Telecaster guitar that was starting
to replace my Gretsch.
Barry's first instrumental was a Cajun number by Don
Rich of Buck Owens' Buckaroos - Down on the Bayou. He followed this
up with our country rock-flavoured version of the old folk song - Eighth
of January, better known as The Battle of New Orleans. Barry
has always done an excellent job on old time waltzes so it was natural
that his next choice would feature the beautiful, Twilight Waltz.
A regret that we all shared on Barry's numbers was that we didn't hire
a session bass player. Barry played bass on everyone's songs except his
own - for which he moved to fiddle.
Jake has a great voice for ballads, so his first choice
- Hangin' On - was a good one. It also gave me a chance to experiment
with the recently-installed Bigsby tremolo bar and home-made B-bender on
my Tele to try to come up with steel guitar sounds. Jake's next choice
was Merle Haggard's
Branded Man. A bit of a thrill for me as I got
to sing on my first record. Jake comes from a church background where he
grew up singing in choirs and quartets. As a result he has a good grasp
of harmony -- an area I was very weak in, since on most of my duets with
Sue-On, she had always sung the harmony parts. In our stage shows then,
I would sing lead to the chorus of his Branded Man and he would
take the harmony parts. Since voice-overs were not possible on this session,
we decided to do the song as we had always done it on stage. His third
song was the Hank Williams classic, I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry.
Sue-On opened our side with the beautiful Lefty Frizzell
Mom and Dad Waltz - a song that we thought was ready
for exposure. One of her show-stopping stage songs was Silver Threads
and Golden Needles to which we had worked out a rock arrangement. Then,
for a change of pace, she chose one of the most requested songs from our
TV shows: Tiny Bubbles
- a song I got to try harmony on. Sue-On
has really an amazing voice. In a matter of seconds she can switch from
projecting uptempo songs where she barely needs a mic, to soft, whispery
and throaty ballads.
For my quarter of the album I chose two guitar instrumentals
and an old Red Foley song -- Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy - a number
that I used to like as a kid. It's a song with good rhythm potential and
is a lot of fun to sing. My first instrumental was a country standard --
Steel Guitar Rag -- in an arrangement I had worked out on the Telecaster.
In keeping with our trying to do three entirely different types of songs
I chose medley of a couple rock/blues tunes for my second instrumental:
Freddie King's Hide Away and the Wailers/Kingsmen hit, Louie
Louie. We've always had a habit of trying to work as maximum number
of song titles onto a session or stage show.
Being limited to three numbers each, we all put a lot
of thought into the choosing of these numbers. We had a few rehearsals
at Jake's farm near Rapid City but were a little nervous and a whole lot
excited when we finally carried our gear into the "big time" recording
studio. Also joining us on the session was Warren Hannay, a drummer I had
worked with in rock bands a few years back, but we hadn't been able to
get together for a full rehearsal with him. All of us were more than a
little bewildered at the location of the studio: The Winnipeg Grain Exchange.
Alex Moodrey's Galaxy Recording Studio was actually some sort of all-in-one
portable system which he somehow wrangled permission to set up for the
day in a room in this Main Street old office building. When we arrived
on Saturday morning -- November 29, 1969 -- It wasn't quite what we expected:
linoleum floor, bare walls, street and corridor noise, engineer Alex sitting
on a rickety old wooden chair behind a stereo reel-to-reel recorder perched
on sort of a kitchen chrome table, and a half dozen cables leading to mics
scattered around the room. Everything would be recorded live to tape, without
the benefit of baffles, EQ, reverb, DI, overdubbing or even enough mics.
A whole lotta trial and error. The play backs we listened to after recording
each number were not too promising, but we gave it a game try. Alex promised
us that everything would be fixed in the mix... mmmm... what mix?... and
echo would be added down east at the mastering plant. We couldn't help
but wonder just how they were going to change the sound of poor Warren's
kick drum which sounded like some sort of giant Salvation Army bass drum.
Somehow, after a long day's work, we got the twelve songs down, signed
releases and binding contracts and then five shell-shocked musicians stumbled
out onto Portage and Main -- we didn't feel much like recording stars.
The next stage of this project was to supply Galaxy
with a band photo to put on the record jacket. The people at CKX-TV and
Radio were very obliging -- we were one of the first bands in the area
to put out a record album, and since we had done shows at CKX for many
years, they readily supplied a photographer and the use of their studio
so that we could pose with a TV camera in front of one of our sets.
When the final product arrived we were happy with the
look of it but the finished mix was a shock -- delay echo on every voice
and every instrument... Whew! Like no record I'd ever heard before... or
since -- botched in post production -- but even so, it had its satisfying
moments. Because of our TV show and regular live performances, the record
sold pretty well -- but, foreshadowing the situation in years to come and
the success of future releases, we didn't sell any in our home towns. Still
seeking acceptance, a few years later, we even went so far as to do hometown
tribute albums and actually featured the hometown area in a chapter
for a college-level geography textbook I was commissioned to write for
Brandon University and the University of Manitoba. The book is in its third
printing but we have yet to sell one locally.
This stumbling, humbling debut experience in the recording
world only seemed to whet our appetites. We learned from our mistakes and
benefited from the experience, and a year later we were about to embark
on our second recording venture -- the first of a long line of independent
recordings for which we would retain complete control and ownership.